Edinburgh Fringe 2010
This 20th Anniversary production of the West End and Broadway musical is a colourful, and high quality jukebox musical. Fans of jazz legend Louis Jordan will be pleased to hear a good selection of his hit songs, (including ‘Early in the Morning’, ‘Choo, Choo, Ch’Boogie’, ‘Saturday Night Fish Fry’, and ‘Caldonia’), all energetically performed by an excellent cast, and rocking live band. The show does fall prey to a major fault of many jukebox musicals, as the plot is tenuous at best, and occasionally disappears altogether. But if you want to see first class performers and a taste of what it might have been like to hear the swing, rhythm and blues, and ‘jump-blues’, of a jazz club in the 1940s, then you’ll really enjoy this show.
Clark Peters stars in this revival of the 1990s hit show (it won an Olivier in it’s day) based on the work of Louis Jordan, whose unique take on rhythm and blues jazz paved the way for 50s rock and roll. The production is a high quality one, with strong vocal and dance performances from all involved, wonderfully vibrant 40s costumes, slick choreography, and an attractive lighting design, all of which combine to make it an enjoyable show.
Peters himself wrote the book of the show, (although I suspect many will be coming along to see him due to his international fame as Lester Freamon in ‘The Wire’) and with his soulful voice he gives an enjoyable performance demonstrating his musical background. But those who are coming solely to hear the hits of Louis Jordan will also not be disappointed. The arrangements are strong (the take on St. Louis Blues being really excellent), and its always nice to see a live band on stage in an era where so many shows are replacing musicians with synths.
None of this however can mask the fact that the plot is massively crowbarred in, and the script of the kind that constantly reminds: ‘Hey guys, we’re doing a show!’. This type of writing has of course become the hallmark of such compilation musicals – and seeing as over half the show is really a ‘show within a show’, perhaps that’s not too great a crime – but I can’t help but think that far more could have been done with the concept. The format of a jukebox musical is pretty appropriate seeing as Jordan was known as ‘King of the Jukebox’, but Jordan earned this title in the face of a series of challenges: the height of his recording career was during a period of segregation on radio; and his personal life was fraught with turbulence. Touching on this could have made for a far stronger show, and would have brought a far better reason for the songs and character development than currently stands.
But one presumes the intent was merely to put on a show, and with that endevour the company has succeeded. The 5 Moes and Nomax cannot be faulted as performers, and the band explodes with fantastic musicianship. This is an energetic and enjoyable jazz concert; toe-tapping good fun.